Yoga-Based Birth Skill #1- Movement (Asana) - Birth Physiology and Movement

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 Birth, herself, is a different animal and she lives in a different world, a much older part of the human female brain.

Giving birth is an innately instinctive act, hardwired into our brains and bodies through millions of years of mammalian evolution and is designed to ensure the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies. We would hardly exist as a species if this was not so.

Human females gave birth before our species “stood up” and before our species grew a neocortex “new brain”.

Can we really birth instinctively if we cannot use our bodies freely?

However, if I were to ask you to contract your uterine muscles, no amount of conscious thought on your part would make it possible—but on your birthing day, you won’t have to think about it, your uterus will just do it—because your body has a mind of its own.

Some bodily functions are just too important to survival, too important to be left to the mostly voluntary realm of the cerebrum so these functions are controlled by a separate part of the nervous system, made up of the:

  • Brain Stem which connects the rest of the brain with the spinal cord. This portion of the brain is in charge of all the functions that keep our species alive: breathing, digestion, pumping blood, and contracting uteri. It’s job is is to control your involuntary muscles—the ones that work automatically without conscious thought.
  • Pituitary Gland which controls hormone production and regulation and pretty much controls the rate of uterine function.
  • Hypothalamus which sits above the Pituitary Gland and works in close conjunction with it. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature, releasing hormones, regulating emotions, and sexual behavior. Oxytocin is produced here.
  • The Amygdala is a small almond shape mass of nuclei, the human brain actually has two- one in each hemisphere. They are involved in many of our motivations and emotions but their specialty is fear and preparing for emergency events— they have a special interest in survival. Interestingly enough, they determine what memories are stored and where these memories are stored in the mind.

These parts of the human brain control the many subsystems necessary for life, they run with no thought from the user through involuntary muscle movements.

Involuntary muscles are constructed out of smooth muscle tissue in which the contractile fibers are not highly ordered (non-striated), they occur in the gut, the internal organs, and the uterus and are not under the voluntary control of the cerebrum.

The smooth muscles of the uterus help a woman move her baby out, the smooth muscles of the bladder move out urine, they determine the rate of blood flow, and they move food through the digestive tract.

Our lungs exist in separate circumstance as they contain both smooth and striated muscle tissue, thus we are capable of a modicum of breath control, but when we aren’t paying attention to the breath— smooth muscles keep air moving in and out of our lungs.

Breath work is Yoga-Based Birth Skill #2 (Pranayama) and will have its own section. So we move on…

Without these vital involuntary movements the body would not be able to maintain even its most basic functions. It is essential that these functions remain out the direct control of conscious direction. 

Imagine having to think each time you took a breath, that you need to remind your heart to pump, you had to consciously summon white blood cells to fight infection, your stomach and intestines to digest food and your uterus to contract. Just thinking about all the critical necessities that entail basic level survival, is enough to make my thinking brain explode.

The main function of the involuntary movement of smooth muscle groups is to contract, and these groups contain unique properties that allow for synchronous contractions to occur, such as the contractions during labor.

The uterus is lined with smooth muscle tissue which creates the contractile force during birth, it is also the driving force behind the creation of numerous pharmaceuticals that have been created to help enhance uterine contractions, but I digress. 

Childbirth is quite literally designed around the physiological concept of movement.

Progress in labor is determined by movement.

The baby initiates the process by signaling— moving endocrine secretions first to the placenta which cues the production of estrogen which is moved to the brain which in turn allows the fetus to mature and the cervix to move and ripen. Hormones are agents of change within the body and during birth. 

First Stage of Labor: The cervix is drawn up (moved) into the main body of the uterus and then dilated (moving apart) and open by the intensity of uterine movement.

Second Stage of Labor: The flexion of the uterine muscles determines the rate at which the baby moves through the open cervix, down through the birth canal and out through the vaginal opening culminating in birth.

Third Stage: Then the body sloughs the placenta off of the uterine wall and expels it out of the body—it is re-“moved”. The uterus continues to move until it has shrunk itself back to close to its normal size.

Whereas involuntary movement is the primary internal process that accomplishes birth, voluntary movement is an invaluable birth skill that works in conjunction with the birthing process by enhancing labor progress.

In addition to those benefits, the choice to utilize gravity, remaining upright, and moving give birthing women a sense of control, which in turn increases both her comfort level and her sense of satisfaction with her overall experience.

Birth is a doing.  Movement is a doing. Yoga is a doing. They are not “think about” doings.

Applying this logic towards labor and delivery makes perfect sense as the addition of Yoga-Based Birth Skills will not only work to facilitate the birthing process, these skills will also help you to find ease and comfort in your body, aid in better positioning, deepen your breath and calm your mind.